‘It’s brought me a type of peace that I’ve never had before’: Spokane patients turn to ketamine therapy for severe depression

SPOKANE, Wash. — Many associate ketamine with being a club drug, otherwise known as ‘Special K.’ But did you know it’s also used to treat severe depression?

We all go through ups and downs in life. For some, those downs never make their way back up.

“I have been dealing with lifelong depression. The first suicide attempt that I had was in the third grade,” said Vinh Buu.

Buu tried everything to help the crippling depression.

“Meditation, mantra meditation, eating different, sleep, diet, exercise. Everything,” said Buu.

Traditional medication didn’t help either.

“You start looking up terms such as treatment-resistant and what not. When you start looking into that realm you find newer scientific treatments that are coming out,” Buu said.

That led Buu to Ketamine Therapy. One of just a handful of clinics in the state is right here in Spokane.

“As crazy as it sounds, it was an instantaneous relief,” Buu said. “I just cried the entire session. I just bawled my eyes out. It was extremely cathartic. It was healing. It was amazing.”

So, how does ketamine treatment work? The answer lies in how it affects the brain.

“A lot of neuronal endings that are responsible for experiencing joy, they kind of whither and die. So the glutamate surge is like watering the garden. These neuronal endings proliferate and the person starts getting rid of the lack of joy and suicidal ideations fade away,” said Tina Gordon, Co-owner of the Ketamine Clinic of Spokane.

Gordon is also a board certified nurse and anesthetist. She said the efficacy of this drug still blows her mind.

“I couldn’t believe that a drug that I used everyday in the operating room was something that was so successful for treating suicidal ideation and mental illness,” she said.

It’s not only used to treat severe depression. Cordon said patients who suffer from bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder, or PTSD can also find relief.

“We get really, really sick people and I’m fearful for them. We get them through their series of six infusions and they just feel so great,” said Gordon.

People like Heather Gardner.

“On June 26th my husband tragically died in the Spokane river saving me and my daughter,” said Gardner.

After that devastating accident, Gardner developed severe post traumatic stress disorder.

“I knew I had to keep going for him, for us, but I just couldn’t find a way out. I was basically just stuck under this huge dark cloud,” she said.

A few months went by and one of her friends suggested she look into the Ketamine Clinic, but not everyone was on board.

“My normal practitioner wasn’t really familiar with the treatment so I didn’t get a referral from him,” said Gardner.

He’s not the only one. A study published on the National Library of Medicine in 2018 said although ketamine therapy has promising results, there still isn’t enough research.

“The safety of such repeated ketamine infusions has not been fully investigated in large clinical and well-powered studies. It is important to keep in mind that ketamine is a schedule III drug, and has great potential for abuse and dependence in humans,” the study said.

“Ketamine has a reputation of being used as a party drug. These doses are a thousand times more than we use in the clinic,” said Gordon.

The drug is given in microdoses during each treatment. Each patient also goes through an extensive screening process beforehand to make sure they’re a good candidate.

“It doesn’t have an addiction profile. We feel very safe and comfortable and patients haven’t had any side effects in the years that we’ve been open,” Gordon said.

Despite some of the unknowns, patients like Gardner and Buu are just thankful to have their lives back.

“I was more creative, I had motivation, I wanted to live life,” said Gardner.

“It’s brought me a type of peace that I’ve never had before,” Buu said.

It’s important to note that the treatment is still not FDA approved and most insurance companies do not cover the cost. It’s always good to have a conversation with your doctor about what’s best for you.